Toxic Trade News / 12 February 2008
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Environmentalists Denounce Illegal Departure of Toxic Ship from San Francisco
SS Independence with PCBs and Asbestos Slipped Away in the Fog
BAN Press Release
  Picture of the ship from post-card during its cruise line service in the early 1950's  
12 February 2008 (San Francisco, California/Seattle, Washington) – The global toxic trade watchdog organization, Basel Action Network (BAN), has contacted the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Coast Guard, US Justice Department and the Government of Singapore to warn the relevant governments that a breach of US and international law is likely to have occurred with the Friday, February 8th towing of the ex-ocean liner, SS Independence (aka SS Oceanic) from San Francisco toward Singapore. According to BAN, a vessel of the type and vintage as the SS Independence contains large quantities of hazardous materials such as toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and lung-damaging asbestos, the export and import of which are prohibited under the laws of the United States and Singapore.

"This sneaky export in Friday's fog should never have happened as it is a blatant violation of the law," said Jim Puckett, Coordinator of the Basel Action Network. "Our laws prevent the export of PCBs either for commerce or disposal, and Singapore also is prohibited from importing this vessel from the US under their international obligations. We demand that the US government orders this renegade US flagged .hip returned to San Francisco at once," he said.

The Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) forbids the export of PCB contaminated material from the US. Ships built in the 1950s contain large quantities of material with high concentrations of PCBs. The Basel Convention, an international treaty controlling trade in toxic waste prevents any country that is Party to the Convention such as Singapore, from trading in waste with any country that is not a Party to the Convention such as the United States. For this reason BAN is surprised that the US Coast Guard allowed the towing permits.

According to BAN this is not the first time a ship that belonged to Star Cruises/Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), has flaunted the law. In 2005 NCL told the German government that they were going to have the former SS Norway (aka Blue Lady), cruise ship exported to Malaysia to be refurbished. Germany was unable to halt the export as hazardous waste due to the claim of continued use of the vessel. Had its export been reported as export for scrapping, then the export would have been prohibited under the European Union laws that implement the Basel Convention. However, after the ship arrived in Malaysia, no repair work was done and NCL instead later attempted to send it to Bangladesh for scrapping. The Bangladesh government refused to accept it due to the large quantities of asbestos onboard.[1] Subsequently it was rammed onto the beaches of Alang, India, in what many believe was an illegal importation in violation of Indian Supreme Court Decisions in India that prohibit importation of obsolete ships without first having them pre-cleaned of toxic materials. Today the Blue Lady sits in the sand, awaiting Supreme Court determinations as to what should be done.

Another similar cruise ship, now owned by NCL, the SS United States built in 1952, and now lying in Philadelphia, contained 300,000 square meters of asbestos -- the most asbestos ever known to have been used on a vessel and was subject of an international campaign to halt decontamination and removal of the deadly asbestos in Turkey and later in the Ukraine in 1993 prior to being bought by NCL. It is expected that the 682 foot SS Independence built in 1950 likewise contains massive quantities of asbestos and PCBs.

The SS Independence was purchased by NCL in 2003. In 2005 ownership was transferred to what is believed to be a shell company known as California Manufacturing Corporation. Despite the name, the California Manufacturing Corporation is located in the same building as Star Cruises/NCL in Miami, Florida. BAN asserts that it is almost a certainty that the SS Independence is headed for the breaking beaches of Bangladesh or India where massive profits can be made due to the high price of steel and because the ships will be dismantled by some of Asia's poorest workers in horrific conditions without proper protective equipment and environmental safeguards being applied.

“The motivation of gleaning gross profit from poisoning the poor is clear and the authorities in both the US and Singapore must cooperate to do everything possible to prevent this devastating and illegal outcome.” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network. "This ship represents death and disease for unsuspecting Asian workers -- it is a floating timebomb that must be returned at once and cleaned up."

In 2003, BAN and the Sierra Club sued the EPA and MARAD to stop the export of 13 PCB-laden vessels from the James River ghost fleet to the UK. As a result of that lawsuit, MARAD agreed to utilize the rulemaking process of TSCA should a waiver be needed for future export. No ex-naval vessels or US flagged vessels of that vintage have been exported since that time. In November of last year, BAN tipped off the EPA and was able to halt the export of the M/V Sanctuary from the Port of Maryland pending testing and remediation of toxic PCBs.[2] Prior to that BAN similarly tipped off San Francisco authorities to the imminent export of the USS Crescent City (aka Artship) from Oakland for scrapping.[3]

BAN as member organization of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking will be putting out a global alert on the ship SS Independence to ensure that countries turn back the vessel as illegal traffick in hazardous waste.


For more information contact:

Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network: 1.206.652.5555 (office), 1.206.354.0359 (cell),




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Select images courtesy of Chris Jordan